Local tours and travel agencies are upbeat on growth of the tourism sector following awards at the ITB Travel Exhibition, Internationale Tourismus Börse, in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday.
Rwanda scooped awards in the Best of the Best exhibitor (Global award) category and the best Continental Exhibitor in the exhibition considered among the world’s largest tourism trade fairs featuring more than 186 countries and over 200,000 people.
Kenya came second and Tunisia third in the African category.
This is not the first time that Rwanda has fared well in the exhibition, last year, the country emerged the best African exhibitor and third in 2013.
Officials at the exhibition said Rwanda’s stand comprised of information presentations by private and public tourism stakeholders such as Rwanda Development Board, Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, Thousand Hills Expeditions, Primate Safaris, Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Wildlife Tours Rwanda, Nyungwe Top View Hotel and Amahoro Tours.
Local operators have expressed optimism, saying the recognition as a top exhibitor would increase potential clients’ curiosity about the country and also acts as an assurance of quality services during their stay in the country.
Jacqui Sebageni, the managing director of Thousand Hills Expeditions, an agency with presence in Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi that took part in the exhibition said the award would open up to possibilities of growth in the near future as it was an addition to ongoing marketing initiatives.
She said the sector had registered growth over the last one year, which was a result of several factors, including exhibitions and promotional activities by RDB.
“Although we can’t attribute the progress solely to lasts year’s award at the ITB exhibition because there were several other factors at play, it also had a role in the progress that has been achieved over time,” she said.
Sebageni said the exhibition and the award had given the potential clients insights of what to expect from the country’s tourism sector as well as raised the profile of the country as a global tourist destination.
She added that the East African Tourist Visa, a joint initiative by Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, would further work in favour of the promotional activities.
Under the tripartite initiative, tourists can visit the three countries using a single visa.
Potential of the private sector
RDB’s Chief Tourism Officer, Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, said this year the exhibition reached out to potential clients by showing the private sector’s potential.
“As we source markets for our diversified range of attractions, we are encouraged that the steady rise we have witnessed in successive years will continue in future. It reinforces the confidence that the global market has for our country’s tourism potential,” Karitanyi said.
She urged tourists to make use of the East African Tourist Visa, saying it presented them an opportunity to visit and learn about the region.
Toward the end of last year, the three countries waived visa fees for foreign residents to allow easy access to the region’s diverse tourism experience.
Before the waiver, foreign tourists were required to pay the $100 fee for the visa that is valid for 90 days.
“As we work to link continental travel, this is an excellent period to get to know the rest of Africa.
Tourists to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have the advantage of using a single visa to visit the three countries,” Karitanyi added.
Speaking to The New Times, Rwanda Eco-Tours Travel Agency country manager, Osborn Shadruh Kinene, called for increased participation in global exhibitions, saying it was a good way to market the country for the benefit of local tourism players.
He said the awards would translate into more interest from international tourists as the national profile was growing.
“Thanks to this award and the ones in previous years, we expect increased interest from international clients in the near future,” Kinene said.
Statistics from RDB indicate that the tourism sector continued to grow in the past one year cementing its position as one of the top foreign exchange earners.
Last year 2014, the sector registered a 9 per cent increase in the number of visitors to the country, from 1.14 million to 1.2 million.
Revenue from the sector grew from $296 million to $303 million.